Susan Granger’s review of “The Man With the Iron Fists” (Universal Pictures)
Rapper and mastermind of hip-hop’s Wu-Tang Clan RZA is a triple threat as writer/actor/director of this campy martial arts action-adventure.
Set in 19th century feudal China, this is the somewhat incomprehensible story of how a shipwrecked American slave-turned-blacksmith (RZA) is saved by the Emperor’s Emissary, Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), and, in turn, uses his metallurgic skill to help the hedonistic British mercenary recover a stolen shipment of the Governor’s gold. As the narrative prologue explains, “When it comes to money, things get funny.”
The brave blacksmith adores a pretty prostitute, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), who works for the Madam (Lucy Liu), an influential force since everything of importance in Jungle Village seems to occur in her Pink Blossom brothel. “Men have always held the power,” she tells her lethal lovelies, “But power is a flexible mistress.”
Meanwhile, the local clans are at war. Villainous Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and his formidable henchman Bronze Lion (Cung Le) are on the rampage, along with duplicitous Poison Dagger (Daniel Wu), and WWE’s David Bautista plays impervious Brass Body. The only point on which all the assassins agree is that the legendary local Cantonese spareribs are “spicy.”
Filled with adroitly-choreographed kung-fu, wire-work and hand-to-hand combat, this is obviously a vanity project inspired by the corny Shaw Brothers’ movies of RZA’s youth, like “Fists of Double K” and “The Godfathers of Hong Kong.” And Pam Grier, star of ‘70s Blaxploitation movies, appears as the blacksmith’s mother in a flashback.
The music megastar grew up as Robert Fitzgerald Diggs and led eight of his unconventional Staten Island cohorts to extraordinary success in the music business in the ‘90s. After scoring “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” he enlisted the support of Quentin Tarantino for this highly stylized spoof which RZA co-scripted with “Hostel” director Eli Roth, incoherently combining the Chinese wuxia
format with a Japanese jidaigeki itinerant peasant/craftsman/samurai concept.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Man with the Iron Fists” is a ferocious 5, filled with blood-spurting and limb-hacking.